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Monday, May 30, 2011

Ananias and Sapphira - An Upsetting Story

Ananias and Sapphira – An Upsetting Story

The story told in Acts 5 about Ananias and Sapphira has never been one of my favorites. I’ll bet it hasn’t been one of yours’ either? Am I right? I would find myself feeling upset and confused every time I would read this Bible story. And it frightened the early Christian church too, so Scripture tells us. Why would God deal so harshly with this couple when they messed up a bit? Haven’t we all messed up at times? Would God strike us down too?

We don’t know much about Ananias and Sapphira. The name ‘Sapphira’ means ‘beautiful’ in Aramaic. Perhaps she was beautiful. This Christian couple may have been part of that group of believers who waited in the upper room for the Holy Spirit to come at Pentecost. Or they may have become believers and joined the church a few days or weeks after that. But Ananias and Sapphira were both members of that very first church in Jerusalem - our spiritual ancestors.

We are told several things about Ananias’ and Sapphiras’ church. For one, at Pentecost the Holy Spirit had fallen on each believer in a powerful way and now the church group was experiencing miracles and healings in their gatherings. And also many of these new believers in their enthusiasm had sold their homes and land and were giving all their money to the group so that everything could be shared in common. “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

It seemed that Ananias and Sapphira loved the Lord and wanted to fit right in with the other new Christians. And since most of their friends were selling their homes and giving the proceeds to the group, Ananias and Sapphira felt pressured to do the same, even though they may have had some reservations. Shouldn’t they join in and appear to go along with the crowd?

Scripture says that Ananias and Sapphira went ahead and sold their home even though their church group didn’t require that of them. And then they decided to keep part of the money from the sale and give part of it to the church group. Nothing wrong with that either. But if they let the other church members believe that they had given all of the money from the sale to the church instead of just part of it; they might make a better impression! They wanted to look good and keep up with the other church members who were giving everything. What could be wrong with that?

So Ananias talked it over with Sapphira and the two agreed together to tell a little white lie to their church leaders. They would tell Peter that they were giving all of the money from their sale and Peter and the others would be impressed with their generosity! Next day Ananias walked in and gave the money to Peter saying that he was giving the church the full amount of money from the sale of the home and wasn’t he a nice guy? Peter, being full of the Holy Spirit, immediately knew that Ananias was lying! He didn’t need to give all of the money to the church, Peter insisted, but he should never lie to the Holy Spirit. Peter spoke out angrily to Ananias: “…Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:4b) Ananias was so shocked at Peters’ words that he fell to the ground at Peter’s feet and died instantly.

Three hours later Sapphira came by not knowing that her husband had died. She walked up and told Peter the same little lie that Ananias had told, insisting that they were giving the church all of the money from the sale and even quoting a false amount. And then Peter told her what he had told her husband: “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out too.” (Acts 5:9) Sapphira also dropped dead at Peter’s feet and she was buried next to her husband. This sad story ends with a report that great fear came upon everyone in the church when they heard about what had happened to Ananias and Sapphira. (Acts 5:11)

We are left with questions. Why did Ananias and Sapphira die instantly when they lied in church when I am sure others have lied in church and haven’t been struck down in such a fashion? What is going on here? Let’s dig a little deeper.

Let’s remember that, when Ananias and Sapphira told their lie, the Holy Spirit had just recently fallen on the church with visible signs like wind and fire and power. At one prayer meeting the Holy Spirit had shaken the meeting room. Healings and miracles were happening every day through the Spirit. And the apostle Peter was so filled with Holy Spirit power that thousands believed in Jesus when he preached and throngs brought their sick out in the streets hoping that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them and make them well! Acts 5:16 states: “Multitudes gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were ALL healed.”

I dare say that none of us today have been part of a church quite like that early church, where Gods’ presence through the Holy Spirit could be seen and felt and experienced so powerfully. Back then every single person Peter touched was healed through the Holy Spirit. Ananias and Sapphira had been there for the healings and the miracles. They had experienced God’s power there with them and seen and felt God’s holy presence residing in Peter and in the church. When Gods’ presence resides so powerfully with His people, they should be reverent in His presence. So when Ananias and Sapphira walked in and casually lied to the Holy Spirit, present there in full power, where was their reverence for God?

We read another story in the Old Testament that is similar to the story of Ananias and Sapphira. In Leviticus 9 and 10 we read about the very beginnings of Israel’s priestly ministry. God had given Moses instructions of how the priests were to sacrifice the animals on the altar for the sins of the people. And Aaron and his four sons had been chosen to be the Israel’s’ first priests. All of the Jewish people gathered around to worship God and after Aaron and his sons had made the sacrifices, Aaron blessed the people. Then the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering on the altar. And when the people saw Gods’ glory in their midst they all shouted and fell down on their faces. (Leviticus 9:23-24)

It was a holy moment. Gods’ presence and glory had come to be there with the people. All of the people were deeply moved and in reverence to God bowed and fell to the ground. But while the people were on their faces in worship, two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu decided to show off and offered ‘profane’ fire right in front of the visible presence of Gods’ glory! Let’s listen to what happens next. “Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord.” (Lev.10:1-2)

These sons of Aaron didn’t seem to respect or fear the presence and glory of the living God. As priests they had been instructed as to how to come into the holy presence of God, but they decided to do their own thing instead! Where was their fear- their reverence for God? After these young men died while everyone was looking on, Moses explained to the stunned Aaron why his two sons had been struck down. “And Moses said to Aaron. ‘This is what the Lord spoke, saying:’ ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy. And before all the people I must be glorified.’” (Leviticus 10:3)

The power and glory of God was physically present in both of these stories from the Bible. Ananias and Sapphira thought nothing of lying when the Holy Spirit was present in great power and Nadab and Abihu played games in front of Gods’ fiery glory. These four people casually did their thing before Gods’ presence and didn’t regard Him as holy. They paraded their sin right in front of a holy God. Most of us have felt Gods’ presence and we know that He is with us. But probably none of us have been in circumstances like these where the glory and power of God could be seen and experienced physically. And if we ever were in the presence of Gods’ glory, I doubt if we would make the same mistake and not honor Him!

Scripture tells us that after we die we will stand in front of the living God in all His glory. God is holy and we will not be acceptable in His presence unless we are holy. We aren’t good enough on our own and in our sin and doing our own thing. We won’t be able to tell our little white lies there or bring in profane fire. We will need to be ready! Heaven is a sinless place and we can not enter it and hang on to our sin. But the God who is holy and pure is also a God who loves us and brings us salvation. He has provided a Way for us to be covered and come to Him, a Way to take away our sin, and a way to be ready. And that Way is Jesus. (Acts 4:10-12) Let’s accept Gods’ gift of Jesus now so that when it’s our time to go we will be prepared to meet our Maker.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Very Beginnings of the Church

The Very Beginnings of the Church

When we speak about the Church, perhaps the first thing that comes to mind may be a congregation of members who come together on Sunday mornings for Sunday school and worship service in a church building. But of course a church building isn’t the definition of the Church. And a local congregation is only a very small part of the universal Church. All of the believers in Jesus around the world who are alive today or who have ever lived during the last 2000 years make up the mystical Body of Christ, - the Church. And the Holy Spirit has put them all together in one Body. (The Body of Christ).

It is believed that Pentecost was the birthday of the Church. At that time there were only about one hundred and twenty people who believed that Jesus was Lord and that He died for their sins. It had just been nine or ten days since Jesus had gone back to heaven and had instructed His followers to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. So when the Holy Spirit fell upon these believers, the Church – the Body of Christ- was born!

God was doing a new thing. These very first Christians had been brought together as one body by the power of the Holy Spirit and they were all on fire for God. The men and women who loved the Lord in Old Testament times lived out their lives under the law while waiting for God’s future promise of salvation. But now that promise of salvation (Jesus the Savior) had come and the waiting was over. The Age of Law had given way to the Age of Grace. Jesus had suffered and died to redeem His Church. So the Church (the believers) was born through the power of the Holy Spirit!

Acts 2-4 tells the story of how those very first Christians lived and what the Church (the group of believers) was like in those first few months. To start with, immediately after the Holy Spirit fell on the believers at Pentecost, a large group of people in Jerusalem crowded around to see what was happening to this noisy group.

Peter took this opportunity to preach to the crowds and about three thousand people believed in Jesus that very day. “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’….Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:38 and 41) So it seems that the Holy Spirit gave Peter great power in his preaching. And the Holy Spirit also convicted three thousand people to accept Christ as Savior and be baptized; they were added to the number of Christians in the new Church. In those early days the Holy Spirit was operating in His people (the Church) in a very powerful way!

That first group of Christians in Jerusalem didn’t build a big church building but instead they met in the temple court (that first group was mostly Jewish) and ate together in each other’s homes and shared everything in common. Peter and John and some of the other men who had been Jesus’ disciples became part of that very first Church. These early Jewish Christians studied Jesus’ disciples’ teachings and prayed and ate together constantly. Let’s try to get a picture of that very first group of Christians. “They devoted themselves to the disciples’ teachings and to the fellowship and the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the disciples. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Everyday they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

Peter and John were members of this very first church. One day on their way to the temple they stopped to talk to a lame beggar sitting at the temple gate. The beggar was asking for money. Peter told him that he didn’t have money with him but he would give him what he had –he would heal his lameness in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 3:6-9) So Peter commanded him to walk in Jesus’ name and immediately the lame beggar jumped up and began to walk and leap around and praise God.

All of this excitement caused quite a stir as many people crowded around in amazement. This crowd had always remembered this man sitting with withered legs by the temple gate begging, but now he was running and jumping about. So Peter had another chance to preach to the crowds and tell them about Jesus the Savior.

Just as Jesus had healed a lame man and had gotten in trouble with the religious leaders, now Peter and John also would get in trouble with the same religious leaders for healing this lame man in Jesus’ name. The high priest and the Pharisees threw Peter and John in prison, later releasing them with orders to never preach about Jesus again. These powerful rulers also threatened to imprison or kill any Christian in Jerusalem who might disobey their orders and preach about Jesus.

Peter and John went back to the Church and reported all that had happened. Peter told his fellow Christians of how they had been ordered never to preach about Jesus again. They all knew that these authorities could throw them into prison and possibly have them put to death if they disobeyed. It hadn’t taken long for the new Church to be persecuted for their faith! Would these new believers obey the religious authorities or would they risk prison or death and keep telling others about Jesus? What would we do in similar circumstances?

Let’s see what Scripture says they did. “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God,… Now, Lord consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:24, 29-31)

I don’t know about you, but I am really impressed with that first church and the way that they reacted when they were threatened by prison and death. Instead of being intimidated and playing it safe, these early believers prayed for boldness to speak all the more about Jesus. And they prayed for more healings and miracles to be done through them in His name. God must have been pleased because after they prayed, the meeting was shaken and the Holy Spirit filled them with even more power and boldness.

That very first Church is a great model for us to follow. Those early Christians were joyful and enthusiastic about their Savior, Jesus and about what the Holy Spirit had done by putting them together as the Church. And they loved each other and shared everything with one another. They didn’t even let threats of prison or death scare them but prayed for the boldness to speak out even more for Jesus.

We also have been placed into Christ’s Body, the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s be enthusiastic and let’s pray for more boldness to speak out for Jesus. Let’s love and share with each other the way they did. And let’s pray that our Church today can be as fearless and loving and filled with the Holy Spirit as that very first Church was.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pentecost - When the Church Received the Holy Spirit

Pentecost – When the Church Received the Holy Spirit

Jesus was getting ready to go to heaven. He had gathered His disciples together on Mt. Olivet and was saying goodbye to them. They all had sad faces because they didn’t want Him to go. He was going back to the Father and they would be left down here on their own. Jesus had reminded them earlier, “I will not leave you orphans.” (John 14:18) But perhaps they still felt like they were being abandoned.

Just before Jesus left He gave His followers a promise. “For John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1;5) “…And you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts1:8)

Jesus instructed His disciples to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon them. Then He began to rise in the air. With heavy hearts the disciples watched as Jesus left them and was taken up to heaven. After Jesus was gone they trudged back to Jerusalem to wait for His promised Holy Spirit. They settled down to wait in the upper room of a large house, and many more followers of Jesus (about 120 of them) came to join them. This large excited group of believers stayed together in the upper room for the next nine or ten days. No one left since Jesus had promised that every believer would receive this wonderful gift. The anxious group waited and prayed together day after day for the Holy Spirit to come upon them.

It must have been quite a prayer meeting! And then it finally happened. Let’s listen: “When the Day of Pentecost had come, they were all together and in agreement in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them tongues, like fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)

A group of people from many different countries were in Jerusalem during Pentecost and heard this noisy group and the story of Jesus being told, each in his own language. Surprised as to how these believers could speak so many different languages, this international group of on-lookers gathered around these ecstatic believers as they were speaking in tongues. How could each foreigner hear the gospel in his own language? What was going on here? Were they all drunk? Then Peter stood up and preached to the crowd and told them that the Holy Spirit had just been poured out onto these believers. (Acts 2:14-17) Peter went on to tell them that Jesus had died for their sins and the crowd listened and many believed. Scripture tells us that three thousand people believed in Jesus that day and were saved. The power of the Holy Spirit was present in full force!

Jesus had not left his followers after all! His Spirit had fallen on each one of them there at Pentecost. He would still be doing His work on earth through them. And through us too. Scripture says that every believer is filled with the Holy Spirit! “For we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greek, slaves or free – and we are all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12:13) Jesus is in the world today through those of us who believe in Him. We are His body and we are being changed by the Holy Spirit that is in us.

At Pentecost the coming of the Holy Spirit sounded like a mighty rushing wind and was seen as a tongue of fire over each believer’s head. Some say that the Holy Spirit is like fire because the He is so powerful. And the Spirit is often likened to the wind because we can’t see where the Spirit is moving, as God works in mysterious ways. “The wind blows wherever it pleases, you hear its sound but you cannot tell where it has come from or where it is going. So it is with everyone that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

Do we believers appreciate this gift of the Holy Spirit that we have living in us? The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit is constantly working in us: teaching us spiritual truths, convicting us of our sins and leading us. (John 14:26) He pours out God’s love in our hearts. (Rom.5:5) He gives us gifts for ministry and strengthens our inner being. (1 Cor. 12;4-11 & Eph.3:16) He seals us for heaven and His presence in us is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance of the kingdom. (Eph.1:13-14) And Scripture tells us that we can grieve Him. (Eph.4:30)

Let’s try to be aware every day that the Holy Spirit is living in us. Listen for His still small voice, wait on Him and never grieve or squelch Him. Life in the Spirit is a wonderful mysterious journey- a marvelous gift. Let’s receive everything He has for us. And let’s submit to His guidance and allow Him to lead us all the way.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sodom and Gomorrah - When God Has Had Enough

Sodom and Gomorrah

When God Has Had Enough

Once upon a time, two ancient cities named Sodom and Gomorrah sat in a lush fertile valley. Walls surrounded these gated cities and they even had a king and an army. Sodom and Gomorrah were wealthy thriving cities back in Abraham’s time, 4,000 years ago, and Abraham’s nephew, Lot chose to live there with his family.

One day God spoke to Abraham and told him that He was planning to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Let’s listen to what He said: “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me: …” (Genesis 18: 20-21)

God had honored Abraham by telling him what He planned to do, but Abraham was shocked and upset. Probably Abraham was worried about his nephew, Lot. “Would You destroy the righteous with the wicked?” Abraham asked. “Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city: would You also destroy the place and not spare it if fifty righteous persons were in it?” (Genesis 18:23b-24)

God answered Abraham and assured him that He would not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if fifty righteous people could be found living there. Abraham kept arguing with God – bargaining with God for the cities. Finally Abraham asked God to promise that He would not destroy the cities if ten righteous people could be found living there. And God promised Abraham that He would save Sodom and Gomorrah if ten good people could be found there.

The scene now shifts to Sodom. It is evening and Lot is sitting at the city gate when two travelers, who are really angels, walk by. Lot jumps up and bows down before them and invites them to spend the night at his house. The two angels who looked like traveling men agree and Lot takes them to his house and prepares a nice dinner for them. While Lot and the angels are eating, a large group of men from all over the city began banging on Lot’s door. Scripture tells us that every man in Sodom, both young and old is there and has surrounded Lot’s house and they are all ordering Lot to open his door! “Where are the men who came to your house tonight?” they all shout as they bang on the door. “Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” (Genesis 18:5)

Lot tries to turn this mob away from his home but to no avail. The group of men are beating down the door. Finally in desperation he offers this sex perverted mob his two virgin daughters to use as sex objects for the night. But the men of Sodom shout louder and beat down the door. The men refuse Lot’s offer of his girls to assuage their perversions, as they prefer using Lot’s male guests. (Genesis 19:8-9) Finally the two angels get involved and confuse and temporarily blind the aroused men so that they can’t see the door. At last the befuddled group of men wanders off. Then the angels tell Lot and his family that God is going to destroy Sodom and they urge them to leave Sodom as soon as possible.

Time was running out and the next morning the angels grabbed Lot and his family by the hand and hurriedly pulled them out of Sodom. After they were outside the city of Sodom the angels gave Lot and his family some instructions: “Escape for your lives! Do not look behind you or stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed.” (Genesis 18:17b) Lot’s family ran for their lives and when they had reached safety Scripture tells the story: “Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But his wife disobeyed the angels and looked back at the burning cities, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 18:24-26)

Abraham went out that morning and looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah. “And he saw the smoke of the land which went up like the smoke of a furnace.” (Genesis 18:28b) Abraham lived on a hill in Hebron which was about eighteen miles away from Sodom and Gomorrah.

Bible scholars believe that the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were located near the south end of the Dead Sea. Scripture described the area around Sodom and Gomorrah as a lush fertile plane. Lot had chosen the area as ideal for grazing his vast herds of sheep and goats. But today the south end of the Dead Sea is a desolate wasteland. Is it desolate because God reigned fire and brimstone down on it so long ago? And if just ten good people had been found in the two cities, God’s judgment would have been averted! Do we believers have more influence in our world than they realize?

What did Sodom and Gomorrah do that was so evil? Ezekiel 16:49-50 gives us a clue. “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned: they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before Me. Therefore I did away with them, as you have seen.” And also Jude 1:7-8 tells us more. “”In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. In the same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings.”

What can we learn from this scary Bible story? I suppose this ancient history lesson teaches us that God won’t tolerate over the top sinning indefinitely. God judged Sodom and Gomorrah when they gave themselves up to homosexuality and immorality. And God punished Sodom and Gomorrah when they became proud and haughty and forgot to take care of the poor. God judged the world with a flood in Noah’s time and prophecy tells us that He will judge the world again at the end of the ages. God has limits and we better not test them. Better not because there comes a time when God has had enough!

Monday, May 2, 2011

What Would Jesus Take?

What Would Jesus Take?

This week Rush Limbaugh, a conservative political talk show host here in the good old U.S.A., shouted and banged his fists on his desk while arguing about Jesus. Mr. Limbaugh was fulminating about a liberal political talk show hostess who had dared to mention Jesus on her morning program. And Rush was fighting mad! ABC’s Christiane Amanpour had made this statement to her viewers: “As Christians around the world celebrate Easter, we ask some of America’s most influential pastors, in these turbulent times, has America lost its way? Taxes and budget cuts. What would Jesus do?”

Rush ranted a bit: “A favorite tactic of the left, you know, when it suits them they’ll talk about Jesus Christ….” He went on fussing that liberals try to make Jesus into a liberal who would stand up for the downtrodden and tax the very rich, whereas Jesus is really a conservative who would never tax the very rich but would balance the budget by cutting out aid to the poor.

Rush continued on arguing his point with these words. “You know the real question is, Ms. Amanpour and the rest of you who seek to co-opt Jesus Christ as simply another prop in your march toward the decline of America. The question is not what would Jesus do, the question is not what would Jesus cut, the question is what would Jesus take? That’s the question you never want to answer. That’s the question you never want to ask. …Who would Jesus Christ decide they got too much and we’re gonna take it from ‘em. …….No, Ms. Amanpour, it’s exactly on the path you and your friends in the media and your president have chosen, the path toward decline, right on schedule. Who would Jesus decide they got too much? ( the rich?) And we’re gonna take it from ‘em? You can try co-op Jesus Christ for your cause all you want … Taxes and budget cuts, what would Jesus do? Well what would Jesus take? That is the question people need to ask to put this in perspective. Of course the answer is nothing. …..”

Rush Limbaugh seems to be speaking for Jesus, a new improved political Jesus, of course. The question that Rush is trying to answer is this: how much would Jesus tax the rich so that the poor and elderly in the U.S.A. could continue getting help. “Of course the answer is nothing” Rush insists. Jesus would never expect the very rich to give any of their wealth in taxes– “ nothing” – no taxes from the wealthy to keep Medicare running and aid continuing for the elderly and the poor. The rich get rich and the poor get poorer. That must be Rush’s Jesus.

It didn’t take long for a liberal talk show host to reply. Lawrence O Donnell on late night MSNBC sounded a lot like a Fundamentalist preacher as he paced back and forth quoting one Bible scripture after another in his response to Rush the next day. O.K. Rush, what would Jesus take? Lawrence O Donnell asked. What would Jesus require from the rich – or from all the rest of us for that matter? Lawrence O Donnell disagreed with Rush Limbaugh’s belief that Jesus would expect “nothing” from the rich – no taxes at all. O Donnell actually believed the opposite! Why Jesus would require everything – our all- he insisted. And then he quoted Bible passages to try to back up his claim.

First O Donnell reads from Mark 10:17-22 where the rich young ruler comes and asks Jesus what he must do to be saved. “As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before Him. “Good Teacher,” he asked, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’ Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ He said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.’ And the man’s face fell. He went away sorrowing, because he had great wealth.”

Next O Donnell quoted Isaiah 3: 14-15. “The Lord enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of His people: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard: the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?” And he followed up with Luke 14:33. “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple.”

And Lawrence O Donnell, our talk show host turned evangelist finished with a scripture about the sheep and the goats found in Matthew 25:31-46. “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, …all the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come. You who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed You, or thirsty and gave You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and go to visit You?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for Me.’ Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after Me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help You?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.’ Then they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Lawrence O Donnell ends his program by inviting Rush to find a Bible passage anywhere that says that Jesus would be upset that the rich might be required to be generous to the poor. And so it goes. This argument will never be resolved. What would Jesus take (require) of the rich? Is Jesus a liberal or a conservative? Or is He neither?

The Bible tells about a man who comes to Jesus and asks Him to take half of the inheritance money from his brother and give it to him. Let’s listen to what Jesus has to say when it comes to getting involved politically here. “‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ Jesus replied: ‘Man, who appointed Me a judge or an arbiter between you?’” (Luke 12:13-14)

Jesus also says: “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) Perhaps we are blaspheming Jesus Christ when we try to represent His message as being partly political? Could we Christians be grasping for more power when we dare to combine church and state. Maybe we are adding to the Word when we mix our own political leanings into our church teachings as part of the one true Christian faith. How many seekers have been turned away from the Lord because many of our churches have become so political? I know several.

I wonder if the question for Christians should be: “What would Jesus ask?” Rather than “What would Jesus take?” I personally believe that Jesus would ask us to love one another and to give to the poor. He would ask us to be compassionate and be our brother’s keeper. We know that Jesus cares deeply about the needy and He wants us to care too.

I could be wrong but I don’t believe that the Lord would want our country to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly and the poor and the desperate by taking away their safety net, even if the wealthy did have to pay more taxes. I believe that God speaks to us through the Bible telling us to give to the needy. I believe He asks us to do that and I believe God wants our country to do that too. But He “asks” us, He doesn’t “take” from us. He waits for our answer. God always seems to respect our free will. He leaves the decision, right or wrong, to us-and to our country. God won’t force us or our country to take care of our poor. Sometimes I really wish He would!